An explosion of synthetic cannabinoids, going by names like “K2,” “Spice” or “synthetic marijuana,” on the market claim to offer a “legal high.”
Manufactured overseas, or in underground backyard labs, these dangerous chemicals are slightly altered enough to skirt federal and state controlled substance regulations.
Synthetic drugs are very popular among teenagers because they can easily be bought online or purchased over the counter in head shops or gas stations.
They’ve also found a market in professional sports because organizations, such as the National Football League (NFL), don’t test their athletes for these illicit compounds.
According to the Federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, 158 previously unknown synthetic compounds were discovered in 2012 alone.
These include cannabinoids, which are man-made chemicals often sprayed onto plant material and marketed as “legal pot.”
Cathinones, another synthetic compound, are meant to mimic the effects of amphetamines.
How Are Synthetic Drugs Marketed?
Labeled “not for human consumption” in order to fly below the radar of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations, they’re often sold or marketed under the following inconspicuous sounding names:
- Jewelry cleaner
- Bath salts
- Herbal incense
- Mr. Happy
- Funky monkey
What Are the Negative Consequences and Side Effects of Using Synthetic Drugs and Cathinones?
In the early morning hours of January 14th, 2016, Chandler Jones, the star defensive end for the New England Patriots, showed up outside of the Foxborough Police Station naked from the waist up.
Officers told the Boston Globe that Chandler put his hands behind his head in a plea for help, dropped to his knees and put his forehead on the ground.
In his report, Patrolman Foscaldo noted that the athlete appeared to be praying or worshipping.
The truth is that after smoking “synthetic marijuana,” Jones had a bad reaction. After an initial examination by the police, he was rushed to the hospital where he was treated and released later that day.
Jones’s reaction to the drug is not that uncommon. Healthcare professionals across the country have a seen an increase in emergency room visits due to synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, which are known to cause some of the following negative reactions and side effects:
- Severe agitation and anxiety
- Nausea and vomiting
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure and chest pains
- Tremors and seizures
- Extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions and violent behavior
- Suicidal and negative thoughts leading to physical harm and even death
In his first public statement after the incident, Jones told the press, “I want to start off by saying I made a pretty stupid mistake this weekend.” As it relates to synthetic drug use among professional athletes, he’s not the only who’s been caught abusing these substances.
Marcell Dareus of the Buffalo Bills and Kellen Winslow of the New York Jets have also faced both league and legal punishment for using synthetic substances.
Though there are now federal laws banning synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, with 43 states passing their own legislation, it’s difficult to police the easy online access to the drugs.
“As long as people are willing to do stupid things to their bodies,” Rusty Payne, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman, told USA Today, “we’re going to have problems with these kinds of drugs.”
As for the NFL, synthetic drugs are not currently a part of their normal drug-testing panel. It’s been speculated that players have turned to using them to beat the league’s mandatory drug tests.
Only after an active player has had a drug infraction do NFL medical advisors have the discretion to broaden the drug screening. With so much money invested in their players, though, whether officials really want to know what their athletes are doing off the field is up for debate.